Myths and Machines, part 4

Pontus Wärnestål
4 min readMay 20, 2024

Welcome to “Myths and Machines,” the fourth part in a series of weekly opinion pieces that draw from the rich tapestry of ancient myths to explore the ethical lessons they offer for the development of artificial intelligence. Each story serves as a reminder of the principles that could guide our technological endeavors.

Here is part four, the chilling story of the minotaur in the labyrinth. (Previous texts: part 1, part 2, part 3.)

The Labyrinth and the Minotaur: Navigating Complexity (or: if you don’t have a thread, you’re dead)

In Greek mythology, the story of the the Minotaur provides profound insights into the challenges of navigating complex systems. King Minos of Crete commanded the master craftsman Daedalus (yes, that’s the same Daedalus we talked about in the previous story) to construct an elaborate labyrinth to house the Minotaur, a monstrous creature half-bull, half-man, born from a curse. The labyrinth was so intricately designed that anyone who entered it would be hopelessly lost. Every year, seven young men and women were sent as a tribute to be devoured by the Minotaur.

An ancient Greek black-figure vase depicting the Minotaur. The Minotaur, a creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull, is shown kneeling with arms outstretched, set against an orange background.
By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5,

Theseus, a prince of Athens, volunteered to enter the labyrinth and slay the Minotaur. Before he ventured into the maze, Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, gave him a ball of red thread. By tying one end at the entrance and unraveling it as he went deeper, Theseus ensured he could find his way back after confronting the beast. Thanks to Ariadne’s thread, Theseus successfully navigated the labyrinth, defeated the Minotaur, and returned safely.

The Essence of the Myth

The myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur symbolizes the intricate and often opaque nature of complex systems. The labyrinth itself represents an overwhelming, confusing structure where one can easily become lost. The Minotaur within is the lurking danger, a threat that must be confronted and overcome. Ariadne’s thread, a simple yet effective tool, becomes the key to navigating and mastering the labyrinth.

Relevance to AI and Data-Driven Systems

In the context of artificial intelligence (AI) and data-driven prediction and decision systems, the labyrinth represents the complexity and opacity of these technologies. AI algorithms, particularly those used in predictive analytics and decision-making, are black boxes, impossible to inspect and make sense of. Their inner workings are complex and not easily understood, even by experts. This complexity can lead to significant challenges and risks, akin to the dangers within the labyrinth.

The Minotaur symbolizes the potential harms and ethical dilemmas inherent in these systems. AI can perpetuate biases, make errors with serious consequences, and be used for malicious purposes. The threat of the Minotaur is ever-present in the form of biased algorithms, privacy invasions, and unintended consequences of automated decisions.

Ariadne’s Thread: Transparency and Accountability

Ariadne’s thread, which allowed Theseus to navigate the labyrinth and return safely, parallels the need for transparency and accountability in AI development.

1. Transparency and explainability: Just as the red thread provides a clear path through the labyrinth, transparency in AI systems allows us to understand and trace the decision-making process. This involves making algorithms interpretable and ensuring that stakeholders can follow and understand the data flows and logic used by AI.

2. Accountability: Ariadne’s thread can also symbolize a tool for accountability, ensuring that those who create and deploy AI systems can be held responsible for their outcomes. This requires robust governance frameworks and ethical standards to guide the development and use of AI.

3. Navigating Complexity: The labyrinth’s complexity demands tools to navigate it safely. In AI, this means developing methods and practices that help manage and mitigate the risks associated with complex algorithms. This could include regular audits, bias detection and correction, explainable AI methods, and continuous monitoring of AI systems in operation.

4. Ethical Design: Theseus’s mission was not just to navigate the labyrinth but to confront and eliminate the Minotaur. Similarly, AI systems must be designed with ethical considerations at their core, actively working to identify and mitigate potential harms. And it was through an “interdisciplinary” method Ariadne and Theseus managed this together. Many warriors had gone in before Theseus, but it was with the help of Ariadne’s red thread success was achieved. (Please boost your AI design and development team with many different disciplines and skillsets.)

What we can learn

The myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur teaches us that while AI and data-driven systems are inherently complex and potentially dangerous, we can navigate these challenges through transparency, accountability, and ethical design. Ariadne’s thread — a symbol of clear guidance and responsibility — must be woven into the fabric of AI development, ensuring that we can harness the power of these technologies without getting lost in their complexities or falling prey to their inherent risks. By doing so, we can master the labyrinth of AI and emerge victorious, just as Theseus did.

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why the architect who could find the way out of the dream labyrinths in the movie Inception is called Ariadne, and why she’s wearing red, this myth is your answer.

The Dreamworld Architect Ariadne inspecting one of her mirror creations, from the movie Inception (2010).

Resources: Modern day labyrinths and red threads

Next up: Hepaesteus, the Golem, and the genie in the lamp: Unintended Consequences in the Age of AI

Next time, we turn to a trio of cautionary tales from Greek, Jewish, and Arabian mythology. Hephaestus’s golden servants, the Golem, and Aladdin’s genie all reveal the unexpected and often tricky consequences of our most brilliant inventions.

Read about how these stories from three different cultures highlight the risks of innovation running amok and warn us to be careful what we create. Read on –›



Pontus Wärnestål

Deputy Professor (PhD) at Halmstad University (Sweden). Father of two. I ride my bike to work.